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Joe Dertinger Isn’t Your Average National Ski Champion

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(credit: CBS) David McCoy
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Hit the slopes with Joe Dertinger, and there are a few things about him you can’t help but notice – his speed and fearlessness being just two.

“It’s the closest thing to flying,” the 18-year-old skier says.

Dertinger’s been competing on the national and sometimes international level for the last three years.

“[Skiing is] just the best thing you could do out there in the winter,” he said, “and there’s nothing really else to do, I guess.”

And you also can’t help but notice the USA Alpine Team logo on his back. The high school senior from Waconia is the junior national champion.

If you ask him his secret, be prepared to be amazed. Since he started skiing at age 5, Dertinger’s been doing all of it on one leg.

“I was born with a small foot, on my right leg and had it amputated when I was about 14 months old,” he said.

The birth defect also affected his hands. But it clearly didn’t affect his skiing or his motivation.

“It’s never slowed me down,” he said. “I don’t let it.”

His prosthetic leg has connections to align it into skiing position, but the boot is right off the shelf. He doesn’t use any adaptive equipment.

“I’d say the only major difference is just not being able to feel, really, the ground underneath that side,” Dertinger said. “I just kinda gotta trust that it’s there, a lot of the time when you’re turning, which is kind of fun when you’re going 40-50 miles an hour.”

Dertinger’s coach says he has to create a different sensation down through the boot and into the ski, because he can’t feel his foot.

“I guess it’s really good not to be able to feel your toes getting cold,” Dertinger said.

But he is quite familiar with feeling pride — especially when he’s competing for his high school varsity team at Waconia.

“Pretty much all the high school racing and stuff I do is all against able-bodied kids,” Dertinger said. “So it’s a lot of fun to kind of see how I stack up against the able-bodied kids and, usually, kind of middle of the road.”

A lot of Dertinger’s competitors don’t know about his leg.

“I don’t go around like, ‘Hey, I have one leg and I’m ahead of you,’” hesaid.

His national championship this past March came against other adaptive skiers.

Now, Dertinger’s got his eyes on the 2018 Paralympics in South Korea.

“It’s just something I love,” Dertinger said. “So I want to keep getting better at it.”

Now that he is 18, Dertinger will go for the men’s title instead of the junior national championship next month in Utah. He qualified for the Paralympics in Sochi, but since the U.S. only sends its top five skiers (Dertinger placed eighth), he’ll have to wait until 2018.

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